LOWER EAST SIDE — Assemblywoman Alice Cancel heard boos at Tuesday night’s 65th District candidate forum when she declared “All lives matter” in response to a question about police brutality, while nearly all of her competitors expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
When asked by a panelist how they would help improve relations between police and communities of color in light of recent instances of police brutality, most candidates declared their solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters.
Cancel, the last candidate to respond, set herself apart with a declaration many activists see as dismissive of their fight for justice on behalf of black victims of police violence.
“All lives matter,” she stated, then repeated the controversial phrase. “All lives matter.”
Much of the crowd at the Henry Street Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center Playhouse erupted in boos, while some applause and cheers could also be heard.
Once the furor died down, Cancel shared her perspective on tackling fraught relations between officers and citizens, which she attributed to a growing lack of familiarity between the two — the answer, she argued, is closing the gap.
“I’m going to be very honest with you — I have been living in this community for 40 years, and I used to know that cop on that beat,” she said. “That cop on that beat knew everybody in my community, whether it was public housing, whether it was private housing — that was the cop that we knew.
“I want to make sure that the cops that are in our community should know our community and live our community. Because this is why all of these things are going on, because that cop on the beat no longer knows you, doesn’t even know who you are, doesn’t know who your family is.”
Four of the six candidates — Gigi Li, Yuh-Line Niou, Don Lee, and Paul Newell — declared solidarity with Black Lives Matter during their responses to the question, posed by a lifelong Lower East Side resident.
Every candidate said relations between law enforcement and community members are fraught and pledged to increase transparency and accountability among police interactions if elected, with community-centric policing emerging as a point of consensus.
Lee called for increased transparency and accountability in instances of police violence, while Li cited a community policing initiative in the 9th Precinct as having the potential for expansion. Both Newell and Niou argued the importance of the attorney general overseeing cases of alleged police misconduct and of addressing the disproportionate number of minorities within the criminal justice system.
Jenifer Rajkumar did not mention the Black Lives Matter movement, but advocated for specific policies she believes will improve community-police relations, such as The Right to Know Act, which would require officers to identify themselves and explain why they are stopping or questioning an individual. She also voiced support for raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York State from 16 to 18.
The grilling of the assembly candidates took place at the second “candidate forum," where those vying for disgraced former Assemblyman Sheldon Silver’s seat in Assembly District 65 faced questions from moderator N.J. Burkett of WABC-TV, a panel of Lower East Side locals and activists, and audience members on topics such as the community's lack of affordable housing — which every candidate identified as the most pressing issue facing Lower Manhattan — overdevelopment of the Two Bridges waterfront, and improving test scores in Lower East Side schools.
Candidates were also asked to speak to Silver's legacy, with each pledging to fight corruption in Albany by prioritizing community service over political gain.
When asked whether they would vote to re-elect Mayor Bill de Blasio, only Cancel gave a straight "yes," while others either said no or demurred, saying it was too early to make a judgment.
The six candidates will face off in a September primary election before the general election in November.
A spokesman for Cancel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.